Saturday, May 21, 2011


These are some designs for the upcoming production of Cosi by Louis Nowra at the King's Head Theatre in Islington (June 21st). I am working in collaboration with theatre designer, Cherry Truluck as part of my work experience.

The play is a dark comedy, taking place in Australia, in a mental institution; with characters whose conditions sound like reading an A-Z mental health handbook. These characters put on the opera Cosi Fan Tutte, except without singing and in English.

The Mikado

Soon after our Peer Gynt Project we were assigned to design a castful of characters for the classic British operetta, Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘The Mikado’. Being the self-admitted opera geek that I am I couldn’t even wait to get my hands on the libretto. Music is an essential part of my design process, I somehow feel that sound sphere is connected to the visual, difficult to explain really. But whilst I design, I always like to have music that has some connection to what I am creating- like listening to psychedelic music if I get an assignment to do a sixties drug-induced play, etc. So for me, I like designing for opera because it comes with a ‘soundtrack’ that informs my work.
For a long time, I’ve had the idea of setting a farcical opera in a more serious context, opera such as ‘The Magic Flute’, somehow appropriately matching the beauty and grandeur of the emotions that the music conjures to the drama of the piece.
What first came to my mind with the The Mikado, was Nanking, Nanking, directed by Chuan Lu, a beautiful film that I had the pleasure seeing at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts, about the little discussed rape of Nanking. I, myself had no idea about this even. Over a six-week period, hundreds of thousands of Chinese soldiers were slaughtered and an estimated 20,000-80,000 women were raped. The deeds were comparable to those of the Nazis.

In my production of The Mikado, I sought to keep a sense of humor but receal the esoteric realities of unnamed suffering. This was brought on by my research into Japanese history—how in the late 19th century, England regarded Japan as the greatest, most civilised country in Asia, mainly because of it’s military prowess (similar to that of Britain at the time) and development of technology.
The information at hand was all good and well intellectually, but I had to find a way of representing this visually. Oddly enough, a breakthrough in my work occurred- I realized that by having firmly thought out my ‘themes’, the visual research came out quickly and had a strong automatic coherence to it. In researching Japanese art, I soon realized that the art itself was a bit raunchy and dark.. Especially interesting was Kuniyoshi, whose ‘erotic demons’ and ‘faces’ were especially inspiring.
Another great find was the fabulous book ‘Wearing Propaganda: Textiles on the Homefront 1931-1945” which included many examples of beautiful Japanese Kimonos made during World War II which incorporated war propaganda .
I was fascinated with things that appeared visually, to be one thing, but ended up having a darker more sinister meaning, like the kimonos. From the outside, it looks like a beautiful Japanese traditional garment, imbued with traditional meaning, but if you look closely at the disturbing images of war printed upon it, one will come to lean it has a darker, more sinister meaning. I directly got inspiration from.
I had a distinct vision- main themes where the ties between beaurcracy , genocide, and sexual violation.
During one of our group tutorials at college, someone brought an image of Japanese puppet theatre, called Bunraku, a part of Noh Theatre. What struck me about the image was that the puppeteers were visible, contrary to that of Western tradition, and dressed in all black I interpreted this image as a delicate and tender one; a woman who is too weak to do things for herself, so her actions must be done for her by powerful men.
However, this is not to say I categorized all women in my production as weak, the villain, Katisha an elderly and grotesque noblewoman who lustily chases after the hero, Nanki Poo, is certainly not delicate. In my production, Katisha is put in a Kimono made out of her own sagging decaying flesh. Researching Kuniyoshi, I kept on coming across images of Japanese hags who eat young girls, which I thought extremely befitting to the piece. Inspire in part by Oprah episodes describing extreme weight loss and subsequent excess skin. So the concept was that Katisha’s excess skin formed the shape of a Kimono; making her a horrible sight, where no one would want to approach her. The skin also brings up the concept of flesh- lust and death. I also thought it would be quite comical as a performance, again going back to the idea of a double meaning.
All of the characters are deceiving and manipulating each other, which I wanted to be evident in the designs to the viewer, a way of visually manipulating the audience, just as the Japanese war machine or the British imperialists deceived their captors.

The Mikado

Pooh Bah



Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Wimbledon Costume Show!

 Even though this event happened some months ago, it sticks in my memory as a career milestone. The show itself was fantastic, and I am proud in particular of my year, which did such a lively job of it! We were all given the same text and each put a different interpretation on it, no one character looked the same. Enjoyed getting to know these lovely, talented ladies, and had a good time. Boy, was it hard work- many a delirious hour spent in the costume 'portacabin', but ultimately very rewarding.

My Costume

Making Peer Gynt Costume

I really enjoy making, and this time I discovered my love for the college dye room. The jacket involved some complicated screen printing techniques, almost similar to that of marbling. I would splatter the different colored binders, similar to the painting techniques of Jackson Pollock and the go over the screen with the squeegee. It would take several layers in order to get the desired effect.
                The other challeng in making was the shoulder pads, I ended up having to build them out of a plastazote material. In order to get the stained glass window effect, I took a photocopy of a printed scarf and did a PVA transfer technique onto fabric, which was very time consuming. One great thing about my college is that it affords us students to experiment in non-traditional making techniques. Looking back, I feel proud in my varied techniques and experimentation.

The 'Gyntish Self'

The first project  assigned in my second year was Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, in which we were to select a character of our choice to design and eventually  make a costume for the Wimbledon Costume show in February. Peer Gynt, is actually quite interesting a tale, one which involves trolls, a bit of world travelling, and the devil. You might recognise the ‘soundtrack’ by Edvard Grieg (, good blog reading music!). Definitely a play far removed from Ibsen’s later, more famous ‘modern’ plays. However, when doing further research into Ibsen himself and his life, I began to uncover a deeper meaning to the piece. To completely dismiss Peer Gynt as pure fairytale/fantasy would be to completely misunderstand it. For me, understanding the text lies in two things; Kierkegaard (the Danish Christian philosopher) and Ibsen’s early life.
 Peer, the character is a direct ‘alter-ego’ of Ibsen- one which he plays out his guilt of his younger years. Ibsen saw himself in his youth as someone who was basically sinful, selfish, and wild. What had happened was that when Ibsen was around 20 years old, he was apprenticed to an apothecary, during which he did what any so called average college student today would do- binge drinking, partying, ignoring his studies, begging his parents for money, and getting someone pregnant. Ibsen ended up paying child support for many years afterwards, not to mention that it must have wrecked his conscience to some extent.
                It is obvious that Ibsen, like many other writers and artists have sought their work as a catalyst for healing, and I viewed the piece as an entirely poetic commentary on the human condition rather than pure fantasy.
                At first I wanted to design the costume with a traditional Norwegian style, full of dirndl skirts and ribbons. My tutor thankfully steered me away from that and instead encouraged me to re-contextualize the piece. I started to have fun with the idea, and soon came up with the idea of setting Peer Gynt in a world closer to my own- contemporary America.
                I somehow thought the God-fearing Kierkegardian themes in the play went along well with the ‘fire and brimstone’ religion that is somewhat apart of American society today. I am not quite sure if the same would  be true of contemporary Norway, as the majority of Europeans are Atheistic.  The strong moralistic and often dogmatic themes in Peer Gynt kept on reminding me of American televangelists; I jokingly suggested that Peer could be a character akin to the infamous Jim Bakker (of Tammy Faye),  or that the Trolls could be the cast from the American reality series Jersey Shore.
                In fact, as I began to joke with my friends about the idea, the more I realized it would be possibly a very interesting premise to design for. So in the end, I basically translated the play into a new narrative. The character I ended up designing was Peer Gynt as the prophet. There is a bit in the original text where Peer Gynt’s ship wrecks and he manages to be stuck in the desert somewhere in the Middle East. In my production, he gets in a plane crash and is stranded in the desert somewhere in the Mojave desert in the American Southwest. He then steals a traveling preacher’s getup and gives himself the stage name of ‘The Prophet’, thus taking on an alias and preaching to the naïve desert townspeople. He then becomes a televangelist and loses everything after his girlfriend Anitra (Tammy Faye) steals from him.
                Designing contemporary clothing was at first a challenge for me- after all, there wasn’t really a necessity to make anything. So, I tried my best to think ‘outside the box’ and to really push myself to think of something show-worthy and interesting. In my research, I started to explore cowboys, and became fascinated by the textures of distressed jeans. Soon became aware of the different parts of dress that comprises a so called cowboy outfit- scarf, belt, hat, etc. Also looked into ‘showbiz’ characters such as Liberace and Evil Knievel and other Televangelists.
                The  idea for the colors came from a painting accident, and I decided it would go with the flamboyant character of the prophet. I also wanted to add something special for the show, so I decided I would put wings on the costume, that, when unfolded would make a stained glass window like the famous one in Chartres. I felt like it would be a way of inflating the prophet’s holy ego.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Foundation Year Part 3: Drawing

         Sometime in November, we were finally separated into the pathway of our choice. I was torn between Design for Performance and Fashion. At that point I was sick of looking at Fashion magazines and was more drawn to the ‘fun ’ aspect of performance design. But somehow I got into the fashion pathway, so I went with it. The sessions were extremely different than my fashion 101 classes.  We did a lot of draping: cutting up old garments and re-pinning them. Tons and tons of drawing, more than anything else.
        That’s one thing I never did or probably will not get- the odd mystical creature of the fashion figure. (8 feet tall, small head, small torso, long legs, weighing 80 pounds, distorted proportions, androgynous yet feminine, not to fashion-y, not fat, no boobs, the list of the ideal qualities goes on…).  

Some drawings done during my time in the fashion pathway.

I had asked probably 10 different fashion authorities on what I was doing wrong, all with conflicting opinions on what was right. When I would try to do something that I thought was experimental, it wouldn’t look ‘right’. But then again, according to the tutors, nothing in art was wrong. But I wasn’t getting it right according to them. I started to hate drawing. Luckily, eventually choosing the right pathway that fit me, made me less frustrated.   Not everyone can be a fashion designer, after all.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Foundation Year Part 2: Art-Stamina

“You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” – Jack London

Don't ask me who's influenced me. A lion is made up of the lambs he's digested, and I've been reading all my life."
-Charles de Gaulle

On my way to Brick Lane Market one sunny Sunday in September, I happened to come across a Korean Girl looking for directions outside of halls. We somehow struck up an instant friendship. Turns out she was a talented Fine Artist, an MA student at Chelsea College of Art, Jung Eun Ryu. From then on, every weekend or two, we would trudge out into the streets of London, gallery map in hand and go to at least 3 different galleries/exhibitions in a day.
The beginning of one of those days would start with us energetically chatting away, by the end of the day we would be completely silent from exhaustion.  It involved a lot of walking and getting lost in Shoreditch. Now that Jung has long since been back in Korea, it was a gift to have someone with such art-stamina, that’s a trait hard to find.
Not only did I see a lot of Contemporary Art, but our tutors encouraged us to research new artists and designers. I especially liked doing the spatial design/ architecture pathway, not because I was particularly good at it, but I find it incredibly fascinating.
I was lucky enough, when I lived in London with my parents when I was 14, to have seen Olafur Eliasson’s The Weather Project in the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern. All throughout my high school art education it gave me a point of reference and propelled me to become a designer.It still gets me heated up! (no global warming pun intended).
Being an artist isn’t a completely solitary thing.  We soak up what’s around us. Somehow living with the only cultural bastion being selected by the television and media executives, makes for conformity and brain wash.  It is important to go out and experience inspiration from the source, not from information regurgitated. pre-packaged. lobotomy.

Notable and awe- inspiring exhibitions during 2008/2009:

Lest we forget, Giles Walker’s pole dancing robot strippers at Mutate Britain.

"Imperial College- your gallery sucks! But your men are hot "

Wandering the streets of Shoreditch

Came Accross Piers Gough's Circle Apartments on the way to the (crappy) Design Museum. Amazingly gorgeous and atmospheric. Has real tree trunks supporting the balconies. Future home? I think so.